Maybe there’ll come through a technology that will allow for stronger boards without sacrificing weight, whether it be that we bake a blank in the same way that we bake a loaf of bread – I don’t think we’ve even touched on that or got anywhere close to what’s possible with surfboard technology and materials. I’d love to see the industry put up an innovation fund to find out if we can make a surfboard in a different way and do that research collectively as an industry and then share good practice, through open source technology because it will benefit us all, as a sport and through our interactions with the planet. Is that wishful thinking? I don’t know that it is. It just takes good leadership from a few companies. It comes back to being culturally green versus being scientifically green.
When we did that board at Eden we also worked with Homeblown who turned the balsa into a blank. They started blowing a biofoam, which was 35% plant based materials. But when we dug into it, we found that the plant based oil that was being used was soya so it was probably coming from monocultures in land that was formerly the Amazon rainforest! You realise that there’s no simple way. You have to dig deep and ask questions and be principled. Things can be done, though. We need to see more energy going in from the surfboard industry. At the moment, it takes what it’s given.
When we were working on the biofoam we worked out that for every ton used in surfboards, probably 1000 tons of similar foam would be used in boatbuilding. And how much foam is used by the construction industry for insulation? Unbelievable amounts. At the moment, they’re all oil based foams, so one of my big arguments and challenges to the surfing industry is, in the same way that we used surfing as a marketing tool for Surfer’s Against Sewage to drive change way disproportionate to the number of surfers that there were at the time, if we sort ourselves out and were to create an amazing foam that is sustainable, we would be able to use surfing and say “surfers have solved this issue for the construction industry”. Why can’t we do that? Why should we wait to say, “Oh, the construction industry has solved it” and hang on their coat tails? Is that what we’re about? Are we going to follow everybody else’s lead because we’re too busy going surfing? Definitely go surfing and have a good time, but help drive that change and use our energy. We are some of the luckiest people on the face of the planet. We have food, shelter and we get to go surfing. It’s a big deal, and we should give something back along the way.
But with surfboards: love your surfboard and realise that you’re unlikely to ever surf like the pros that you watch on a surf film so get a board that you like, and get one that will last.
As surfing continues to grow in popularity, and there are more “users” at surf spots and more consumers, what role do you think artificial wave technology could have in relieving the growing pressure on surf spots?
It’s a double edged sword. It might create more surfers who will go to surf spots – that could happen – but they’re coming anyway. Surfing’s popularity is going to continue to increase, so artificial waves could have a massive benefit there but I think that we need to be very careful in the way that they’re set up. It’s going to be really important that part of going to an artificial wave imprints on and helps to educate people about good surfing etiquette, because when we talk about crowded breaks, yes our breaks are crowded but the biggest problem isn’t the crowd but the etiquette.
It’s all there, all of our great surfing heroes have said things like “give a wave” or “the best surfer in the water’s the one having the most fun”, but it just gets mad. I don’t know whether some of that’s ego, or if some of it’s the macho element because of the ratio of men to women in the line-up? I’ve seen outrageous stuff in the water here with guys dropping in on women and giving the excuse that they “don’t know who she is and whether or not she can surf”. Who do they think they are?
Artificial waves will I think be amazing; they’re coming. I don’t believe that a single artificial wave should run without being on a green energy tariff, and preferably sourcing some of its electricity on site. There’s no way that surfers from the rich western world should be surfing artificial waves with a carbon footprint that isn’t sourced from renewables so that there isn’t a significantly reduced or neutral carbon footprint. Sea level rise due to climate change is putting communities underwater and killing people, acidification of oceans is breaking up coral reefs, so even if you don’t care about people on the other side of the planet and you’re just doing it for selfish reasons, you still shouldn’t do it because the reefs that you want to surf are going to disappear deeper under water and dissolve.
Are there any organisations, brands or individuals who you think could be doing more to use their influence and reach for good?
I’d say the World Surf League. I think that they could be doing more. They do some good stuff, but they have a lot of time to talk and they could fill that up with some very interesting interviews. You think about all of that downtime: every lay day, where they just talk rubbish quite a lot of the time. That’s not a criticism of those commentators and announcers, but they need to realise that there’s an awful lot of really intelligent people who surf. Just build up that whole profile, and pay some of them! It would make the World Surf League broader and so much more interesting. They could do a whole lot.
Individuals? Kelly has come under some flack recently, and rightly so. I do think that he should have come out and said “I am voting and I’m actually not particularly happy with that imagery and the lack of respect for half of the population of the world” (women). Is he really happy with a president who denies climate change? Who wants to close borders? Because if you’re an American surfer right now how are those trips to Baja going to go? I don’t know that I’d want to be an American surfer heading down into deeper Baja or off the main route. In the same way that we saw with the Bali bombings I know that some people will freak out and say “how dare you, we’re surfers we should be able to go anywhere and shouldn’t be involved in this”, but we should. We’re citizens of the world as well. We should be voting and taking some leadership, because we can’t just build fortress nations. If ever there was a sport that needed to avoid that, it’s surfing! We travel. Look at that poster right behind you: The Endless Summer, the search for the perfect wave. There it is. That poster almost defines the sport of surfing. It is a global sport; it is people travelling around the world looking for amazing waves. It’s not just Baja trips, but trips to Indo, all sorts of places. Even on a selfish basis, those ramifications are already in place: It’s a little bit riskier this winter for any western surfer to go to some of these places. “We” as the western world, our political leaders. We need to be ready to be humble, respectful and for sure careful.
I don’t buy the conspiracy theories and things like that, I kind of lose patience. I understand very much that the world is controlled and driven by massive forces and some super rich individuals, but that isn’t to say that we can’t change it. In my own life, I’ve seen the ability of a small bunch of surfers with no campaigning experience or scientific knowledge stand up and help deliver £5.5 billion spend on the clean-up of our coastal waters, and take on ten massive privatised water companies. I’ve been a part of that. We can do that. Some people would have said that there’s a conspiracy theory and you’ll never change them. You can. We have to get active, and for sure the forces are massive. When the guy from the University of East Anglia was hacked, the climate change scientist, and there was an e-mail that said “we need to leave some evidence out” – wake up! You’re taking on the global oil industry, they’re going to hack you. Just be pure, and you can win. We’ll win. I’m positive about that. Can we solve the world’s energy crisis? Can we move to renewables?